Off Campus

“She wanted to make the world better.” Remembering Marina Keegan ’08

By Jake Kuhn ’13

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything… We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

These wise words by Marina Keegan ’08 appeared in her piece “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which she wrote for the Yale Daily News, urging her fellow 2012 graduates to fight feelings of unease and to change the world. Her own prospect of changing the world—a promising one—was cut short on Saturday, May 26, when she died in a car crash just five days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale. The passionate writer, actress, and activist was 22.

Unafraid to voice her opinions, Keegan established herself as a star on both the Yale and BB&N campuses. At BB&N she not only was a top student, but also led the Model UN club, acted in theater productions, wrote a column for The Vanguard, and was a peer counselor. Her deep engagement with the community resonated with everyone, from classmates to teachers to her closest friends.

“Marina was such a life force that really everybody knew her,” says Senior Class Dean Louise Makrauer. “She would stand up for her ideas and ask the hard questions, all in such a wonderful, generous way because she wanted to make the world better.”

Amy McNabb ’08 remembers of her friend: “She had a lot to say, and she made sure everybody heard her,” she chuckles. “She always made you think twice about things, made you question your fears and why you weren’t standing up for what you believed in. It’s what made her such a good writer.”

Writing was Keegan’s forte, the best expression of her thoughts. Her Upper School Advisor Amy Selinger says that writing was “her brain. She could see everything in this incredibly multidimensional and creative way, so that when you read something she wrote, it was straightforward and accessible but also very deep.”

Keegan’s talent earned her the Junior Profile Prize for her piece “I Kill for Money” about her family’s exterminator, as well as the English Prize at the end of her senior year, for which she was praised for her “keen intellect,” “irrepressible enthusiasm,” and ability to write with “insight, nuance, and grace.”

“Marina’s writing was essentially flawless,” says English Teacher Beth McNamara, who taught Keegan in tenth and twelfth grades. “My expectations of her were probably unfairly high, and she never disappointed. Reading her papers was a chance for me to enjoy and learn from her work.”

Ms. McNamara remembers that Keegan elevated the classroom spirit by doing little things, too, like organizing a trip to see the movie “Atonement” after reading the book in class, or gleefully announcing in class that J. K. Rowling was going to speak at Harvard’s commencement.

Ms. Selinger says, “She loved to play with ideas, loved sparking debates.” This passion won her another accolade: the Jacobs Cup for outstanding debater in the Sophomore Debates.

At Yale, Keegan completed an English major and an writing concentration. She drew national attention with provocative pieces like her column “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” which encouraged Ivy League graduates to follow their passions instead of following the trend of securing high-paying jobs in the financial sector. The column reached the pages of the New York Times, and one of her short stories was selected for NPR’s “Selected Shorts” in 2011.

In her columns, stories, and plays, one can find thoughts on the earth’s mortality, Yale’s rivalry with Harvard, a nude woman reading aloud to a blind man, even 20-somethings living on a Revolutionary War re-enactment ship. The last is the subject of a musical she wrote the book, Independents, for, which opens at the New York International Fringe Festival in August.

“Her mindset was richly taut and profoundly casual at once,” Yale Professor Deb Margolin, who taught Keegan in her playwriting class, wrote in a comment on an online remembrence of Marina. “Her scenes were read and everyone sat up straighter. Ideas that seemed parallel became perpendicular.”

Keegan’s roots in theater trace back to BB&N, where she never took a formal class but acted in countless productions, including Hair and All’s Well that End’s Well.

“She was a live wire,” says Drama Teacher Mark Lindberg. “She could go after it, she wasn’t passive but intense, and she committed herself totally.” Mr. Lindberg remembers talking to her about her decision to take her play to New York and the confidence she had. “She took a deep breath and said, ‘Life, here I come.’”

In addition to acting, Keegan sang in Chorale and Voices of the Knight. Her friend Chris Richards ’08 says she had a “lovely” singing voice. “She was so driven and pushed herself hard, but when she sang, she was so calm and beautiful and fun. Everyone is emphasizing her success, but she was also really fun and silly. She made everyone laugh.”

Keegan’s drive was particularly manifest in her political activism. According to Ms. Selinger, her passion for and leadership of Model UN helped make it one of BB&N’s largest clubs. In 2011, she was the president of the Yale College Democrats (“the Dems”), which spearheaded movements for the decriminalization of marijuana and for the citizenship of illegal immigrant students.

“Marina always had a plan and a role for you to help with it,” says Diana Enríquez ’09, who worked alongside Marina in Model UN and at Yale with the Dems. “She was very grounded and realistic about how to approach ideas and gave us all a sense of direction. We knew she was the one who was going to impact way more than just our community.”

“She promised a lot to those she was close with,” says Luke Vargas ’08, one of Keegan’s closest friends. “There was never any doubt that she wouldn’t come through, not only in ways one would expect, but also in the unexpected.” He remembers, “When she walked and talked next to you, she would bump into you as if there was a magnetism. To be around her was to feel that magnet, to be close with her.”

A memorial service was held for Keegan last Saturday in her hometown of Wayland. Keegan is survived by her parents, Kevin and Tracy, and brothers, Trevor and Pierce.

Photo: Marina passed away just days after graduating from Yale, leaving behind a legacy of wit and vitality. Courtesy of abcnews.com

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